Movie Review: A United Kingdom

A piece of untold history, beautifully presented by Director Amma Asante.

In 1947, Seretse Khama, the King of Bechuanaland (David Oyelowo) fell in love with Ruth Williams, a white office worker (Rosamund Pike). In the film, the chemistry is undeniable, but their respective families, along with the British and South African governments, challenge the union.

On the brink of launching apartheid, South Africa could not accept the idea of a mixed-race couple ruling the country to the north. The British feared they would be denied access to South Africa uranium and gold. And the risk of a South African invasion of Bechuanaland was a very real threat.

Despite the daunting opposition and scandalous headlines, Seretse and Ruth marry and travel to Bechuanaland. There, they encounter opposition from Seretse’s uncle and other members of the tribe who struggle to accept a white queen. “Do not belittle your kingdom,” warns the uncle. A skeptical woman asks Ruth: “Do you understand what ‘Mother of our Nation’ means?”

David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike deliver Oscar-worthy performances. Oyelowo’s oratorical skills command our attention, while Pike captures the essence of a woman who is confident in her love and commitment, despite the insurmountable odds.

It is not surprising that Nelson Mandela once described the legacy of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams as “a shining beacon of light and inspiration.”

A must-see film that has relevance in our contemporary world.

Note: Bechuanaland is now Botswana.

Movie Review: Beatriz at Dinner

The film begins on a melancholy note.

Beatriz (played by Salma Hayek) is a holistic healer and masseuse, who lives a quiet life in California, surrounded by her pets and appreciative clients. But not all is well in her world. An adolescent client is dying, and a neighbor has cruelly strangled her pet goat.

Feeling out of sorts, Beatriz heads out to an affluent neighborhood to provide a massage for Cathy (Connie Britton). When Beatriz’s car breaks down, leaving her stranded for several hours, she reluctantly accepts a dinner party invitation from Cathy.

One of the guests, Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) mistakes Beatriz for a maid. The evening goes downhill from there. The belligerent billionaire dominates the conversation, boasting about his business acumen and game hunting, while the other wealthy guests curry his favor.

Having consumed more wine than usual, Beatriz shares her more liberal beliefs and engages in debate with Doug. A tense, uncomfortable mood envelopes the group and Beatriz eventually leaves the table. To everyone’s shock and disappointment, she later returns to sing.

At that point, I would have expected a more dramatic turn of events. Instead, the film veers in an unusual direction and then ends abruptly…too abruptly after only eighty-three minutes. Unsettled, I left the theater with many unanswered questions about Beatriz, her relationships, and her state of mind.

Movie Review: Megan Leavey

I sat spellbound, eyes glued to the big screen and watched as the title character (brilliantly played by Kate Mara) transformed from restless young woman to Marine Corporal to war hero.

But the path was far from linear.

After escaping from a humdrum, small-town life in Valley Cottage, New York, Megan Leavey finds herself undergoing grueling training at Camp Pendleton. As punishment for a lapse in judgment, she is assigned kennel-cleaning duty for bomb-sniffing dogs. There, she encounters Rex, an unpredictable, aggressive German Shepherd, who bites the hand of an officer, shattering it in six places.

Initially terrified, Megan heeds the advice of her superior (Common) and fellow handler (Tom Felton) and learns how to project confidence and compassion when dealing with Rex. Megan and Rex form a deep bond that is strengthened in combat and later cemented in retirement.

The war scenes in Iraq include several tense and violent moments when IEDs explode and local establishments are searched. Megan and Rex are injured during a mission, and an officer dies while deployed. While I found these scenes difficult to watch, they did succeed in capturing the horror of the Iraq war. Later scenes provide insight into the frightening and lingering effects of PTSD.

Edie Falco delivers a strong performance as Megan’s shrill, unsupportive mother while Bradley Whitford plays a more compassionate father. Fellow Marine Matt Morales (played by Ramón Rodrigez) appears in several scenes as Megan’s love interest. But the love affair is short-lived…Megan’s true love is Rex.

I would have liked more specifics about the small-town hell that Megan was so desperate to escape. A few quick scenes glossed over a strained relationship with Mom and Megan’s poor people skills, leaving several gaping holes.

A must-see film that will linger in consciousness. Remember to bring tissue!

Movie Review: Rough Night

Co-writers Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs have pushed the boundaries of questionable behavior in this R-rated comedy that has been described as the bastard child of Bridesmaids and The Hangover.

Or in some circles as the first post-Hillary movie.

Scarlett Johansson stars as bride-to-be Jessica, a budding politician running for State Senate. Her posse includes over-the-top kindergarten teacher Alice (Jillian Bell), activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer), wealthy divorcee Blair (Zoë Kravitz), and Aussie flower child Pippa (Kate McKinnon).

The women meet in Miami for a weekend bachelorette party that has been meticulously organized—everything from baskets of “favors” to tequila shots to cocaine to a male stripper. Standard party girl fare until Alice accidentally kills the stripper and sets in motion a series of wacky scenes.

After quick deliberation—Jess can’t compromise her political career, Frankie can’t risk a third offense on her record, Blair can’t put her custody battle at risk—the women decide to dispose of the body instead of calling the police.

As the women plot and execute different disposal strategies, they must also deal with old rivalries and grudges that have festered for the past decade. To further complicate matters, aging neighborhood swingers (Demi Moore and Ty Burrell) hover and put the moves on Blair.

Frantic with worry, fiancé Peter (Paul W. Downs) decides to drive down to Miami, cranked on expired uppers and clad in adult diapers.

Definitely a manic pace but with great chemistry and not-so-subtle hints of dark humor.

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

It was definitely worth the wait—76 years to be exact.

Wonder Woman debuted in 1941 but didn’t get her own live-action film until 2017. Directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot as the Amazonian warrior princess, the film has surpassed all industry expectations, delivering over $300 million worldwide in box office receipts during the opening weekend.

Having grown up watching Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, I wondered if Gadot could capture the essence of the demigoddess aka Diana Prince.

I needn’t have worried.

From powerful acrobatics to rescuing spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to tearing into the battlefields of the First World War—Gadot’s Diana displays strength, determination, and compassion. And she looks the part with her tiara, warrior costume, god-killing sword, bullet-deflecting bracelets, and Lasso of Truth.

After rescuing Steve when he crashes off the idyllic island of Themyscira (home of the Amazons), Diana learns of the global war that has been raging for years. Convinced that the war is the evil work of the god Ares, Diana stands up to her mother (Connie Nielsen) and follows Steve to London.

Conversations about sexual practices and Diana’s visit to a London dress shop provide comedic relief as the pair makes their way to the Front. Steve’s SWAT team—a Scottish marksman (Ewen Bremmer), a con artist (Said Taghmaoui), an Indigenous tracker (Eugene Brave Rock)—and his secretary (Lucy Davis) add eccentric charm and more humor.

I was also impressed by Robin Wright’s portrayal of Diana’s aunt, General Antiope. Unfortunately, she only appears in a few scenes.

I highly recommend this impressive and empowering movie about a superhero who continues to inspire women of all ages. Gal Godot said it best in a recent interview: “Wonder Woman, most of all, she stands for love and accepting all people for who they are…If each of us had a little bit more of Wonder Woman, of these qualities, in us, we’d have a better world.”

Movie Review: The Founder

The title of this biopic is a misnomer, one brilliantly crafted and promoted by Ray Kroc (played by Michael Keaton). Kroc was not the founder of McDonalds, the billion-dollar food empire that revolutionized free enterprise. That honor belongs to Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman), two brothers who were determined to keep their inexpensive fast-food restaurant a small, local operation in San Bernadino, California.

But the two brothers were no match for the ambitious, fast-talking, traveling salesman who saw the franchise potential of their innovative concept. At age 52, Ray Kroc needed and craved a get-rich-quick scheme that would end his days on the road and nights in seedy motels.

Slowly but steadily, Kroc manipulated and connived his way into the lives and finances of the McDonald brothers. I was fascinated–and often repelled–by Kroc’s relentless search for more effective branding and cost reduction strategies. Nothing was off limits from powdered milk shakes to frozen French fries to nefarious real estate deals. After driving Dick McDonald into a stress-induced diabetes attack, Kroc visited him at the hospital and offered to buy him out. In the end, the two brothers could not even use their own name in the original restaurant they founded.

Kroc’s ruthlessness extended into his personal life. I was shocked by how callously he asked his wife Ethel (Laura Dern) for a divorce and how determined he was not to share any of the McDonalds bounty with her.

A thought-provoking movie about an anti-hero, who lived and promoted his version of the American Dream: If you want something, go out and take it–even if it belongs to someone else.

Movie Review: The Case for Christ

Set in the late 1970s and early 1980s, “The Case for Christ” is the film version of Lee Strobel’s best-selling book about his transition from outspoken atheist to devout Christian.

Mike Vogel delivers an excellent performance as the award-winning journalist (Strobel), who prides himself on a facts-only approach to life. That approach is challenged when his wife Leslie (Erika Christensen) responds to the friendly overtures of Alfie (L. Scott Caldwell), the nurse who saved their daughter from choking. After visiting Alfie’s church, Leslie starts reading the Bible and attending more services.

Alarmed at his wife’s “cult” involvement, Lee launches an investigation into Christianity, determined to disprove one of the main tenets of the faith: the resurrection of Christ. He consults with historians, theologians, archaeologists and medical experts throughout the country, hoping to find evidence that will support his hypothesis. While engrossed in his theological research, Lee becomes careless and loses objectivity while reporting a police shooting incident.

Lee’s personal life also suffers. Conversations become heated, and tensions escalate as Leslie takes distance from Lee. While visiting an out-of-town expert, Lee misses the birth of his second child. When his estranged parents visit, Lee picks a fight with his father (Robert Forster), who appears wounded and frustrated as he leaves his son’s home.

I would have liked to have seen more of Faye Dunaway. She played a cameo role as a psychologist who provides the perfect quip to Lee’s argument that 500 eyewitnesses could have been delusional when they claimed to see Jesus after his death. She replied, “That would have been an even bigger miracle than the Resurrection.”

A thought-provoking movie that addresses the existence of God.